On International Women’s Day, we celebrate three prominent professionals who embody creativity and passion for careers in architecture and design.
Just one in every four working architects and architectural designers in the U.S. is a woman, but female architects and designers are busy carving out their place in the industry. Fourteen years ago, the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid became the first female to win the Pritzker Prize for architecture. Six years later, it was Kazuyo Sejima from Japan, and just last year, Carme Pigem was honored with the coveted award.
In recognition of these milestones and many more to come, we talked to three successful women in design and architecture to learn about what inspires them and why they would encourage other women to join the field. Teresa Telander is an associate at Richard Renner Architects, Alyssa Keating is president of the Portland Society for Architects and a project designer at Barrett Made, and Judy Schneider is the owner of Interior Resources interior design studio.
The Path to a Career in Architecture
For Telander and Keating, early experiences with architecture and the built environment planted a seed that grew as their careers took shape. Early visits to construction sites and a childhood spent on the rapidly developing South coast of Spain helped Telander develop an interest in architecture. “This was a fun and very cosmopolitan environment to grow up in, but many developments were lacking. I think my interest in ensuring buildings create places—rather than just walls and a roof—grew out of that,” she says of her passion for architecture. “I continue to be interested in creating something that solves a problem.”
Keating’s aptitude for architecture was evident at a young age, drawing a house in her father’s sketch book. “The drawing I did as a child was your classic, triangle on top of square with center door and windows. The difference between this sketch and any other childish doodle was the fully integrated drainage system. There was outlined piping from the roof peak down to the side of the house, then underground to a pond with ducks, fish and plants,” she says. “As a child, I was continuously observing the built world around me and wanting to understand it better and draw it through my own eyes. I know this was what kept my architectural brain developing, and continues to today.”
As a designer, Schneider credits her interest in pursuing design for a fascination with how we occupy space and how the size and shape of our surroundings affects our experience. A penchant for landscape painting offers another outlet for expression.
What Female Architects Bring to the Industry
When it comes to women in the field of architecture and design, Schneider credits care, compassion and raw talent as key differentiators. “I believe women are better at sensing the needs of their clients,” she says, while Telander uses just one word, “patience,” to describe why women succeed in the industry.
For Keating, passion, grace and attention to detail are key, but she also points to the need for different skill sets to create a checkmate for your architect counterparts. “It’s truly the balance created by both male and female within the industry that makes it interesting,” she adds.
Finding Inspiration in Changing Architecture and Styles
Living in Northern Vermont, Keating credits snow, ice and darkness for sparking an interest in Scandinavian style, punctuated by natural materials and the interplay of darkness and light. “Creating spaces for light, gathering, and reflection of natural beauty and inspiration is key to enjoying the seasons fully,” she says. “Windows are the axis from interior to exterior—the moment when one feels completely connected to their surroundings. Larger panes of glass opening up to vast landscapes is what really excites me—framing those moments in time when one experience interior and exterior in unison.”
Local vernacular and a sense of place are important aspects for Schneider as well. “I am interested in how places develop over time—how new construction compliments established buildings. I am inspired by the process of design and how it evolves,” she says.
Thoughts for the Next Generation of Female Architects and Designers
For Telander, success for a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field means wielding strength and cooperation in equal measure. “Go for it, work hard, stand your ground, but ultimately remember that people respond better to a collaborative approach,” she says.
Schneider believes that success in architecture comes from putting pencil to paper. “My advice to young designers is to learn to draw,” she says. “Architecture is an art and drawing brings us to a better, more concise view of our surroundings.”
Keating thinks that as times are changing, and architecture is becoming a more open field, there’s no better time than the present for women to consider a career in architecture. “Architecture is an intense career. No amount of schooling or college experience could ever prepare you for what it’s really like,” she says. “Step out there and take a risk, feel for yourself and never be afraid of asking questions or being wrong.”
Featured photo courtesy of ELIZABETH HERRMANN Architecture + Design, winner of the 2017 Marvin Architects Challenge.